Family law matters often trigger intense emotions. The dry, logical legal process is sometimes not well-suited to providing workable solutions in these cases.
People seeking a divorce, having a child custody dispute, or contesting any other family law matter should consider family law trial alternatives, called alternative dispute resolution (ADR). There are different forms of ADR, but they all emphasize working cooperatively to find creative and practical solutions to family legal matters.
Family court judges understand that a strictly legal approach to family problems is often ineffective and can even be counterproductive. The court encourages people to work together to resolve their differences.
Mediation is a common form of ADR that can be effective in family law matters. The Fulton County Family Court provides free or low-cost mediation services to people experiencing family disputes.
Mediation is a confidential process that allows parties to discuss their differences in a calm and relatively informal environment. The parties meet with a neutral third party who guides discussions, finds areas of common ground, and helps equalize any power imbalances. A mediator listens closely, ensures the parties hear and understand each other, and monitors the give and take to ensure neither party feels dominated. The mediator does not take sides or offer solutions.
Mediation does not always result in an agreement. Sometimes parties progress but slowly, and several mediation sessions are necessary. If the parties find a consensus, the mediator writes an agreement reflecting their decisions. An attorney could review the agreement and submit it to the family court, which could settle the court case.
It is important to note that mediation is usually not appropriate if the parties have a physically volatile relationship or cannot communicate productively.
Multiple opportunities for ADR exist outside of the court-sponsored mediation services. For parties who can afford to pay, private mediators offer family law resolution services. Many of these mediators are also family law attorneys.
Mediation is not the only option. Other forms of ADR may be more effective in certain cases.
Arbitration is considered a form of ADR, but it is more like a court case than mediation. When parties arbitrate a matter, they both agree to present their issue to the arbitrator and accept whatever decision the arbitrator makes. The Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 19-9-1.1 allows arbitrators to decide child custody and related issues, not just financial disputes.
Arbitration is less formal than a court proceeding, but the parties give up the power to make decisions to a third party. Still, it has several advantages over litigating a family dispute in court.
Arbitration is private and confidential. If there are allegations of marital misconduct, or if a party has substantial wealth, these issues will not be discussed in open court but in a closed session with an arbitrator. Resolving an issue through arbitration is usually faster than taking it all the way through a court process, which can reduce stress and save legal fees.
Many family law disputes can be handled outside of court, and it is usually beneficial to try. Family law trial alternatives are usually less expensive, faster, and keep more power in the hands of the parties.
Talk to our trusted team about whether ADR could be effective for your family dispute. We can offer recommendations and steer you in the right direction.